A 1956 Plymouth Wagon

Dad called it a Hippiwampus. I’m not sure where that name was birthed, but it seemed to fit. What started as a typical 1956 Plymouth Suburban Station Wagon was now a full blown hunting buggy, with no resemblance to the former station wagon.

Dad was a serious, quail hunter. I don’t think he ever missed opening day of hunting season. Once he even quit a job because they wouldn’t let him off. It was that big a deal to him.

In the early sixties, he bought a 1956 Plymouth Station Wagon for Mom to drive. Later he bought her a 1960 Ford Wagon, and he took over the Plymouth. It became his daily driver, but he had plans. Plans that would forever change the look of this car.

The modifications took place in Amarillo, Texas in the mid to late nineteen sixties. Dad worked at a big welding shop in town, and over many weekends, he transformed the vehicle to something else. I wish I had pictures.

The Beginnings

Dad bought the wagon when we lived in Aurora, Colorado. He and mom were planning, to my knowledge, our first big two-week family vacation. I was nine, and my sister was four.

It was two-tone silver/gray and blue with four doors, a V-8 (272 ci. I believe) and a three-speed standard transmission with a column shifter. It was roomy, and the four of us headed out by the northern route ending in Oregon. Then down to California and eventually back through Texas by the southern way. Returning to Colorado two weeks later with five of us. We picked up a cousin in California who came to stay part of the summer.

Mom’s Car

Mom drove the car for years afterward. First in Colorado, then in Spearman, Texas, and finally in Amarillo. By then, it was a high-mileage car by the standard of the day, and Dad, in about 1965, decided to move Mom up to a1960 Ford Wagon. That’s when he took over the Plymouth. It was a back-and-forth to work car for a few years.

Modification Begins

His first move was to shorten the wheelbase. He cut the body off immediately behind the front doors and chopped the frame and drive shaft to match. Dad found a wrecked mid-fifties pickup cab that he cut apart at the back in order to keep the rear window glass. Then he welded it to the back of the cut off wagon. The old cab had black paint, and he didn’t bother to change anything.

Now the car was shortened where the drive shaft was less than a foot long, and Dad continued to drive it back and forth to work. But this was only the beginning.

He built a small bed to cover the rear frame in front of the rear wheels. He carried a chain and a tire tool in it, though I don’t remember a spare tire,

Next Steps, More Mods

A good friend of Dad’s spent a weekend each month in Little Sahara, Oklahoma. Dad decided it would be fun to take the Plymouth along and see how it did in the sand. It turns out regular street tires aren’t that good in the loose sand.

Back home, Dad gathered a set of wheels, and after cutting them apart, he added a 4″ spacer to the front wheels and a 6″ spacer to the back rims. With some bigger, wider tires, the buggy was taking shape.

We took it on several hunting trips after that, and it was an excellent quail hunting buggy.

By this time, I had my license, and I got to drive it some. It was fun because of two things: the short wheelbase made it quick handling, and with all the weight off the back, it would really burn rubber. Hey, I was fifteen.

But Wait, There’s More

Dad spied a 1954 Ford Pickup a buddy at work was selling. The price was reasonable, so Dad bought it. He’d been without a pickup for a few years and was ready for another. By the way, it was an awesome pickup, but more on that another time.

He decided the roof and cab on the ’56 Plymouth buggy was no longer needed so the cutting torch came out again and off they came. Now it was a short wheel-based convertible buggy. That lasted about six months.

On a particular hunting trip, Dad was feeling bad, so we were cutting across a field, driving the hunting buggy, to get to a tree row. Suddenly, we spooked a covey of quail and Dad slammed on the brakes, grabbed his shotgun and in getting out of the buggy, the shotgun barrel hit the A-pillar and kept him from getting out of the driver’s seat.

That was the day, using his 12 gauge shotgun, the windshield was removed. Honestly, he shot it off with four or five shots.

Don’t believe the cop shows on television showing the police hiding behind the car door and remaining safe from all the flying bullets. Pure nonsense. Bullets will pierce the metal quicker than you can believe.

We kept the buggy for a couple more years, and then Dad sold it to someone who wanted a project. It was definitely that.

There Were Two Gorgeous Cars

I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were two of them just sitting there. They were gorgeous.

My wife and I were driving up Buchanan Street in Amarillo, Texas. She spotted them first. The gasp caught my attention, but by looking over at her, I missed what was to my left.

“Circle the block!” she said. “What?” I asked. “Just do it. You’ll be glad.”

Buchanan was a one-way street heading north, so I made a couple of blocks to get back to where she directed.

They were Gorgeous

I gasped in excitement as we approached the used car lot on the corner. One a Forest Green convertible and the other a dark Maroon with a White vinyl top. Both two-door, both beautiful.

I pulled into the lot next to the two and got out to look closer. I approached the convertible, and it had a 390 badge on the front fender and a four-speed on the floor between the two creamy White bucket seats. I believe my heart skipped a beat. The other had a black interior with a front bench and an automatic shifter on the column. It also had the 390 badge on the front fender.

A Matched Pair

“Looks like a perfect his and her matched pair,” I said. “One for you and one for me.”

Of course, it was just a pipe dream. We couldn’t afford one car like this, let alone two. They were impeccable. Perfect bodies, beautiful trim, and even the engine bays were clean. I found myself lusting after them. Somehow. Some way.

The salesman approached with a great, big smile. You know the one they get when a new victim prospect enters.

“I’m just admiring the matched set,” I spoke first. “They are beauties.”

He said, “We just got them this morning. They’ll go fast. If you’re interested, You better grab ’em fast.”

I don’t remember the prices now after forty-eight years, but it was apparent we couldn’t afford either.

Today, that pair would be worth a fortune on the auction block.

Oh, what were they?

A beautiful pair of 1964 Ford Galaxie 500s. Fantastic in every way but affordability. At least for us.

1964 Ford Galaxie 500
1964 Ford Galaxie 500 – Used under Creative Commons License

1965 Mercury Comet- The One that Got Away

1965 Comet Caliente & wife

Only Photo I have of the Comet

My wife was pissed at me. Coming home from the grocery store, she shifted into 2nd gear, and the shift lever came out of the steering column dangling in her hand. The shifter was what is now called a three-on-the-tree in a 1965 Comet Caliente. Under the hood was a 289 cubic inch V-8 which was rebuilt the year before.

One weekend in 1970, I was cutting across NE 24th Street in Amarillo and saw a Mercury Comet on this small car lot. Later on my way back, I stopped to look and discovered it was a V-8 and 3-speed standard transmission. I was in my 1952 Plymouth, and the lot owner said he’d give me $100 trade-in for my ride. We made a deal, and I began a relationship with North State Bank in Amarillo. Forty-three dollars and change each month.
Since Mom had a 1964 Mercury Comet, I was familiar with the car but was unfamiliar with the Caliente model. Mom’s was a small 6-cylinder with an automatic transmission, and this Comet with its V-8 was a beauty.
If you want to buy one now, the current purchase price is steep. A quick search turned up one for $25,995 and another for $74,900. Both are immaculate. A project car can run in the $9000-$13,000 range. I did find one listed for $7400, but no pictures and no description.

The trouble with the Caliente

My wife and I drove the car for a while, and it developed some issues. It was losing power and running pretty ragged. After some work on the car, I decided it was time to rebuild the engine.
My good friend, Steve, and I pulled the engine in our driveway and did the work in the one-car garage. After we got into the engine, we found the problem. The cam lobes were flat. With that discovery, I decided a little upgrade would be nice. My research showed a Boss 302 hydraulic cam would fit my mighty 289. And at only $19, it was only a couple bucks more than the replacement cam.

After the Rebuild

After Steve and I completed the rebuild on the 289 and went through a proper break-in period, it was time to test her out. How? We headed to Amarillo Dragway on a “bring what you drive” weekend. The tech inspector put the Comet in N Pure Stock class. I was thrilled with the declaration of white shoe polish on the windshield. A real badge of honor. Cool stuff.
Three cars showed up in my class, including me. The first race went well against the little Ford Falcon, but the second race was different. When I pulled to the line, the car next to me was a 352 cubic inch Ford Galaxie. I got her off the line and pulled away through second gear. When I hit third (a strict highway gear), the Comet fell flat as she lost the power band. Just before crossing the finish line, the Ford, still in second gear, clipped me.
I was so upset. How could the NHRA rule book class a 289 ci small block and a 352 ci big block the same? My little short-stroke V-8 against her long-stroke V-8? When I asked the techs, they said it was a weight issue. My lighter car had 200 horsepower, and her heavier car showed 250 in the books. The stroke did not come into play. Lesson learned.
It was still a fun day at the track but winning would have made it better.

Back to the shifter

Shortly after the drag strip issue, the shift lever issue became more prevalent.
The shift lever coming off in your hand was due to a worn out and bent shift housing on the column. The roll pin would fall out on the floorboard and when it did, presto chango, the shift lever exiting the column and required some fancy stabbing to get back in before the need to shift to third gear. It was exciting. And probably a bit dangerous.
My first “quick fix” was to put a hose clamp around the shift lever and tighten it as much as possible. That was temporary and didn’t work quite as planned.

The Shifter Plan

I had a plan to fix the shifter problem. Really. I was going to buy a Hurst Mystery shifter and convert the car to a floor shift. The Hurst shifter was $29.95 at the time. All I had to do was save up $30 bucks and tax to make it better. That project never happened.

“New Car Fever”

My buddy Steve had a 1969 Chevelle SS he bought new, and it was a nice car. I started looking at new vehicles, and before it was all done, I had a great idea. I’d buy a new car, and that would make the shifter a non-issue.
See, I needed cash for the new shift unit, or I could buy a brand new 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle with nothing down except the Mercury Comet as a trade-in. With my trade-in, the new Chevrolet was $2645.00. Of course, there was a little something called monthly payments on the Chevelle. $90.64 each month. The problem there was I only made $87.50 per week before taxes.
Yes, I could have bought several Hurst shifters for the first month’s payment. They don’t call it “New Car Fever” for nothing.
Years later when I told this story to another friend he called it the “they wanted cash for the battery” syndrome. Yep!

But It Gets Worse

Oh, and the worst part. I bought two new tires for the front of the Comet that never got installed before I traded her in at the dealer. A few month’s later I went to sell the two tires to a friend and discovered I never pulled the second one out of the trunk of the Comet. And it was long gone. I called Hudiburg-Jones Chevrolet to see.
That is the story of the one that got away. Of all my cars, this is the one I miss the most. There are a couple of others, but the Caliente tops the list.

It was a 1952 Plymouth painted Crystal Turquoise

The car was big enough for a barn dance but was not cool at all for a seventeen-year-old boy. Nor was the car a chick magnet. And since I didn’t play football, that was strike two.

Trading Up?

When the transmission went out of the 1960 Ford Station Wagon, my Dad traded it and $100 for a 1952 Plymouth Cranbrook. It was the definition of ugly. It was a large four-door car with some of the original green paint showing through the rust. It was not attractive in any way.

Under the hood was a mealy flat-head six cylinder engine backed by a three-speed column shifter. Oh, and it ran on 6-volts so my four-track tape deck wouldn’t work. No, this was not my ideal car, but still, it beat walking to school or taking the school bus.

All Ready a Geek

My High School was like most in the late sixties. There were the haves and the have nots. There were the cool kids and those from the South Side of Amarillo. There were football players and the rest of us geeks.

I was in the band and liked it. I started in the fifth or sixth grade and enjoyed the camaraderie of like-minded kids. I even tried out for Drum Major my Junior year and beat out the competition. That was an enjoyable year for me.

Back to Cars

The school parking lot was full of neat cars. Mustangs, Z-28s, Barracudas, Road Runners, Corvettes, Camero SSs, Chevelle SSs. Then there was my 1952 Plymouth. Wow!

But it gets even better. Mom and Dad decided they would give me a paint job for my birthday that year. Not just a paint job but a $29.95 Earl Scheib Special. The Special, as you can imagine, was not a super duper paint job. It didn’t include any sanding, priming, or bodywork. They rolled the car into the booth and shot it one of two color choices. Crystal Turquoise and a color that escapes me today. Let’s just say it was worse than the Crystal Turquoise.

When I got the car back the only good part was it was all one color. But that color looked much better on the paint chip than on the car. It almost glowed in the dark. It was so bright.

Then there was the 6-volt system

As a teenager, music was everything in the ’60s. I liked bands like CCR, Steppenwolf, and Iron Butterfly. The type of music the radio did not play. We all listened to 1440 AM KPUR. It was a Top 40 station, so my listening preference was missing. I had to get my tunes back.

I still had my 4-track tape deck, but how to get it working in a 6-volt system. I talked to Dad and he gave me several options.

  • Install and wire a separate battery just to run the tape deck. Charging would be the issue with this option.
  • Convert the Plymouth’s electrical system to 12-volt from the existing 6-volt.

The second alternative was my choice. The hardest part was tracking down everything needed for the conversion. I replaced every bulb in the car: headlights, taillights, and even the dash lights. Hardest was finding a newer generator to keep the 12-volt system charged. With Dad’s help, I accomplished that, too.

I don’t remember how I handled the windshield wipers and heater motor, but the starter motor stayed 6-volt. Dad thought it could handle the extra juice and it was still cranking when I traded the car off.

Once done, I installed the tape deck and I had tunes once again.

Mechanicals

Late in my Senior year, the Plymouth developed a cracked block and leaked water faster than you could pour it in. No problem. Since Dad was a welder by trade, he took it to his shop on a Saturday and welded to block up. The weld was visible but looked like it belonged. I never had any further issues with water.

The car was reliable for the time I drove it. It only left me stranded on the side of the road a few times. Back then that was good.

Second Gear was Gone and it was Green

1960 Ford Wagon

I shifted into second gear, let out the clutch, and it kicked out into neutral. Oh no, not again. It seems the old Ford lost the ability to stay in second. That was a problem. It was a 3-speed on the column, and with second gone, it made driving difficult. And it was green.

Dad didn’t do me any favors when I got my driver’s license in 1967. He decided to give me Mom’s old car and buy her a newer one. What did Mom get? A 1964 Mercury Comet. And me? A green 1960 Ford Station Wagon. And it was green.

To top it off, we had an old mattress without a bed, so it was put in the back of the station wagon.

Try Explaining the Mattress

Now just think about it. I show up at a date’s house. She comes to answer the door with her father peering over her shoulder. He sees the car and comments about it being a station wagon. Then to make a really great impression, he notices something in the back and asks, “What’s that in the back of the station wagon?” And I have to answer, “It’s a mattress, sir.”

Yeah, that went over well. NOT! You can not imagine the difficulty in heading out on a date after that conversation. It put a big crimp in my social life. And it was green.

When the wagon was handed down to me, it was in fair shape and all the gears worked. Eventually, second gear became unusable and driving it was interesting. Rev it up high in first gear and shift straight to third, which was a highway gear. The car would chug and rattle and complain as if it was not happy with my driving. And it was green.

As some point, Dad decided to trade off the 1960 wagon and get me something else. Something else green.

Then the wagon wasn’t so bad, after all.

Talk about another story. Dad showed up with a rusted out 1952 Plymouth Cranbrook with four doors and a flat-head six cylinder engine. It also had a three-speed on the column. It was not an attractive car, and it did wonders for my reputation at school. I had gone from a station wagon to a big, bulky, unattractive … well, you get the idea. And it was green, too.

I have never enjoyed the color green on a car. I’m not sure why. Just one of those oddities, I guess. Later, when I found another car to trade in the 1952 Plymouth … yes, it was green, also. But it was the last green car. I promise.

Fourteen Years Old with a Driver’s License

Do you remember, as a teenager, that feeling of freedom? Remember? It was the day you passed the driving part of the test to acquire your driver’s license. I admit I’m not sure what it means to today’s teens, but in the ’60s, it was everything.

With driver’s education, you had to be 14 to get a full driver’s license. No side view picture, no restrictions. Able to make the drag with a carload of friends and hang out at the local drive-in.

I was fifteen getting my license because Driver’s Ed was offered the summer after our 9th-grade year. That was the end of Junior High School before Middle Schools rearranged the grades. Still, fifteen was a young age to be trusted with a 4000-pound car and 70 mph speed limits.

Me in 1967 WITH a driver’s license

The summer of 1967 saw the beginning of the change. The age was raised from 14 to 16, going into effect shortly after that.

I’m not sure when the other restrictions happened since they didn’t affect me.

The accompanying picture is me when I got my license. How scary is that? Looking back, all I can say is “What were they thinking giving us licenses at that age?”

We were just babes in funny clothes and bad haircuts. Don’t believe me? I have the High School annual to prove it. The lowest our pants got were hiphuggers, and the velour shirt was all the rage. Trust me.

This is all brought to mind because my Granddaughter is turning sixteen in a few weeks and is eligible to get her license. The thought scares me to death. She’s too young. She’s just a baby.

In reality, she is a beautiful young lady and will do fine. It’s me who will be the wreck every time she gets behind the wheel.

It was Iris Mist Iridescent

When he floored it, I was nailed back in my seat and found it difficult to breathe. The G-force was incredible as we raced down Paramount Street in Amarillo. Then as fast as he had accelerated, he let off and slowed back down to the speed limit, which, if memory serves, was 45 mph. From the moment he nailed the throttle until he let off, time stood still. I don’t know how fast we reached, but it was well over the limit, I’m sure. Blistering fast is all I remember.

First Love

Do you remember your first love? I mean REAL love that just took your breath away? Mine was painted Iris Mist Iridescent. At least that’s what Pontiac called the color in 1965. This car still holds a special place in my heart and mind.

My Dad believed in hard work. He started working for wages at an early age, so he thought it was right for me, too. He got me a job at the Fina gas station where he traded. I was fourteen. At the time, all stations were full service.

Full Service

What is “full service?” We pumped the gas and checked the oil, and while under the hood, we looked at the belts and hoses. Then we checked the air in the tires and cleaned the windows. Not only the windshield but all the windows. Oh, and gas was .26 cents per gallon.

Dwight, the station manager, taught me well and the next summer I got an interview at a large Texaco station on Interstate 40 where it was always busy.

One of the other employees (whose name I can’t remember) owned a 1965 GTO in the light purple Pontiac called Iris Mist Irid. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. At that moment, cars became a real love of mine. I was smitten.

A Lot of Motor

Under the hood, Pontiac’s 389 Tri-power V-8, rated at 360 hp with 424 lb-ft of torque. It was a beast.

The guy who owned the GTO seemed much older, (I was only 15 at that time), but he was 19 or 20. He had worked at the station for several years.

I admired the car out loud several times, and after about a week, he asked if I wanted to go for a ride. I jumped at the chance and the only word that can describe the experience was … WOW!!!!!!

The quick ride in his car was my first experience of real speed.

I have lusted after a 1965 GTO set up the same way ever since.